The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 88-15

FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
OPINION 88-15
October 1, 1988
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
Lawyers may practice two professions from the same premises. Lawyers also may share office
space with nonlawyers. In both cases, certain ethical limitations apply.
RPC:
Opinions:

4-1.6, 4-5.4(a), 4-7.1, 4-7.2, 4-7.2(c), 4-7.4(a), 4-8.4(a)
61-9, 79-3

An attorney asks whether it is permissible for him to operate both his law practice and a
separate, nonlegal business from the same suite of offices. He also asks whether an attorney
ethically may share office space with a nonlawyer.
Previous opinions of this Committee have concluded that neither arrangement is
prohibited. See Florida Opinions 79-3 and 61-9. There are, however, certain ethical guidelines
that must be observed when an attorney operates “dual professions” from the same office or
shares office space with a nonlawyer. Generally speaking, the attorney must preserve client
confidences, avoid misleading appearances, refrain from prohibited solicitation practices, and not
participate in improper division of legal fees.
Rule 4-1.6, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, provides that an attorney must preserve in
confidence all information relating to representation of his or her clients. An attorney sharing
space with a nonlawyer must ensure that the nonlawyer and his or her employees do not have
access to the attorney’s client files. This can be done, for example, by keeping client files in a
room to which the nonlawyers do not have access or by keeping the files in locking file cabinets.
Additionally, the nonlawyers should not be able to overhear confidential attorney-client
conversations.
Any advertising or other statements concerning an attorney or his or her law practice
must be truthful and not misleading. Rules 4-7.1 and 4-7.2. Consequently, an attorney must take
steps to avoid misleading the public as to the nature of the business activities being conducted
within his or her offices. This means there should be a separate sign at the office entrance and on
the building directory (if there is one) for each business or profession operated within the
attorney’s offices. For example, if attorney John Smith operated his law practice and a title
company on the same premises he would need to post a sign for “John Smith, Attorney at Law”
and a sign for “Smith Title Company.” Or, if John Smith operated a law practice and Jane Jones
operated a real estate brokerage in the same office suite, there should be a sign for each business.
Furthermore, it is recommended that two businesses or professions which share space have
separate telephone lines even if those lines will be answered by a common receptionist. If there
is only a central incoming line, the receptionist must answer in a neutral manner (such as
“professional offices”) in order to avoid misleading callers.
An attorney is prohibited from engaging in in-person solicitation of legal employment,
except from relatives, clients and former clients. Rule 4-7.4(a). This prohibition may not be

evaded through the use of nonlawyer agents. Rule 4-8.4(a). In addition, Rule 4-7.2(c) provides
that an attorney may not give “anything of value” in exchange for a recommendation. Of course,
an attorney may not divide legal fees with a nonlawyer. Rule 4-5.4(a). These rules therefore
prohibit an attorney from using a nonlawyer with whom he or she shares space as an agent for
solicitation of legal employment or from paying the nonlawyer for referrals. An attorney who
operates dual professions out of the same location must avoid using his nonlegal business as a
vehicle for improper solicitation of legal employment.
It is important to note that this opinion is written from the standpoint of The Florida Bar
and the legal profession. Other professions may have different or additional requirements for
their members.